In today’s rapidly evolving digital landscape, organisations face a multitude of cyber security threats. While much emphasis is placed on training employees to recognise and mitigate these risks, there is an often-overlooked group with significant potential vulnerabilities – non-employees. These individuals, such as contractors, vendors, and partners, have access to sensitive information or systems, making them attractive targets for cybercriminals.
In this article, we shed light on the security risks posed by non-employees and emphasise the critical role of Security Awareness Training in fortifying businesses beyond their workforce.
The Insider Threat: Extending Beyond Employees
The 2023 Data Breach Investigations Report revealed that 19% of data breaches were caused by insider threats. When we hear the term “insiders,” it’s easy to assume it refers solely to employees within an organisation’s network. However, insider threats extend far beyond employees alone. Contractors, vendors, and partners can also pose a threat to a company’s security. A staggering 41% of insider threats were perpetrated by partners or contractors, highlighting the substantial risk these external entities present.
Understanding the Risks Non-Employees Face
Non-employees may have varying levels of familiarity with an organisation’s security protocols and lack the same level of cyber security expertise as regular employees. This knowledge gap makes them susceptible to social engineering attacks, phishing attempts, and other cyber threats.
With access to critical company resources, including databases, customer information, and intellectual property, they may use their own devices or access data through public networks, creating potential security vulnerabilities. A real-life example of the devastating consequences of such a breach is T-Mobile, which suffered a massive data breach in January 2023 when hackers gained access through a third-party vendor, affecting over 40 million customers.
The Crucial Role of Security Awareness Training for Non-Employees
According to ISO 27001/2 clause 7.2.2 “all employees of the organization and, where relevant, contractors and third-party users should receive appropriate awareness training and regular updates in organizational policies and procedures, as relevant for their job function“.
Providing Security Awareness Training to non-employees can significantly reduce cyber security incidents. When equipped with the necessary knowledge and skills, these individuals become an additional line of defence against cyber attacks, lowering the likelihood of breaches and data compromises.
Extending Security Awareness Training to non-employees enhances an organisation’s overall security posture by encompassing all individuals with access to resources. Creating a robust security culture and promoting responsibility and awareness among both employees and non-employees fosters a collective effort to safeguard critical assets, strengthening the overall security landscape.
Assessing Existing Training Programs
Organisations should first determine if non-employees already have a Security Awareness Training program in place. Evaluating the effectiveness of their existing program is equally important. This evaluation can help identify any gaps or areas for improvement while ensuring that all individuals with access to company resources are adequately trained.
Extending Security Awareness Training Beyond the Workforce
To ensure the success of Security Awareness Training for non-employees, organisations should consider the following:
- Tailored Training: Design training programs that cater to the specific needs and roles of non-employees within the organisation. Address the unique risks they may encounter and provide practical guidance on avoiding and responding to potential threats.
- Engaging Content: Make the training interactive and engaging to capture non-employees’ interest and motivation to learn. Leveraging gamification techniques can bridge the knowledge gap and increase cyber security awareness among this vulnerable group.
- Clear Communication: Emphasise the importance of security awareness and how it directly impacts the organisation’s success. Highlight the shared responsibiltiy in safeguarding information.
- Regular Training: Ensure that non-employees receive regular training, as people tend to forget important information over time. A study conducted by USENIX on the effectiveness of Security Awareness Training revealed that employees retained the knowledge from their initial training for approximately four months. However, after six months, their ability to spot phishing emails diminished significantly.
Prioritising Security Awareness Training for non-employees is essential for organisations to strengthen their overall cyber security posture, mitigate insider threats, and protect sensitive data from potential breaches. Extending security training efforts beyond employees ensures that all individuals with access to company resources are well-equipped to defend against cyber threats. By fostering a collective effort to safeguard critical assets, organisations can fortify their defence against cybercriminals and protect their reputation, competitive advantage, and financial stability.